Review by RageBot
"3D and loyal to the core."
As we all know, 3D Castlevania games tend to get a very bad rap, whether it's because their pioneer is the truly horrible and botched Castlevania 64, or because people just won't accept change. I do not think so, but I do think that the perfect 3D game is yet to be found. Legacy of Darkness, to whom the horrible Castlevania 64 is a beta version, is a decent platformer but lacks a good soundtrack. Lament of Innocence combines some good fighting and platforming, but not enough backtracking. And then there is this game.
First off, it is not a spin-off with no Belmonts involved. It is set in 1479. Sounds familiar? It should be, because three years earlier, 1476, is the time when Castlevania 3: Dracula's Curse takes place, and this game is its pseudo-sequel. That means that there is at least one familiar character here, Trevor Belmont, and indeed he plays a vital role in the plot. But he is not the character you command. You play as Hector, a former minion of Count Dracula, who possesses the power to control demons. This power, called "Devil forging", is unique to Hector and one other man, Isaac, the main antagonist until Dracula is eventually and inevitably resurrected for the umpteenth time.
Throughout the game, you will encounter rooms marked with green doors. In each of those rooms, you will acquire the command of an Innocent Devil, or I.D. for short. There are five classes of I.D's, each with their strengths and weaknesses, and each have a skill you need to use in order to complete the game. for example, the bird-type can transport you over small gaps, and the fairy-type can heal you and open treasure chests. With those skills come a lot of backtracking, to honor the title of "Metroidvania".
You can also evolve your I.D's. Early in the game, you will obtain the ability to get Evolution Crystals from enemies you kill. Once an I.D. gets enough Crystals, it will evolve into one several forms. There are usually four or five final forms, and the form you will get is determined by the type of Crystal enemies drop. This, in turn, is determined by whatever weapon you wield. There are five categories of weapons: swords, axes, spears, knuckles and special weapons. Each type makes the enemies drop a different color of Crystal. The weapons and categories are color-coded, so that there should be no mistakes around. I.D's also drop Shards that can hatch into new Devils of the same type, so that you can have all final forms of the same I.D, if you spend enough time.
The battle system will again remind people of games such as God of War and Devil May Cry. Each of the five categories of weaponry has its own combo system. Press the square button to start the combo, and you can interrupt it at any time by pressing the circle button, to end it with a deadly finisher that depends on the point where you interrupted the combo. Try it out and find the ultimate time to press circle, if any! Other than this, it's quite similar to Lament's battle system.
You can also steal from enemies. Press R2 to target an enemy with a cursor. Eventually, once the enemy does a specific move, the cursor turns purple, and then you press circle to steal! The problem here is that the time window can be extremely short and that it can come with ANY movement. Sometimes you need to guard against an attack, attack the enemy, launch it to the air, or jump. Sometimes the enemy is pushed backwards during that time, so you need to corner it. This can get very frustrating with some enemies. If you want a true challenge, try stealing from Death, just keep three or four extra controllers, in case frustration gets you.
Another new feature is the combination system. With the materials stolen from enemies, you can create new weapons. See, Hector here can forge other things beside devils! you can gradually steal better materials that yield better weaponry. As such, you'll spend quite the time stealing all the materials you need. Sometimes, you need to grind for hours on the same enemy.
Now, for the reason behind the title. The majority of the reason is the enemies. The former 3D game is lacking in this category, in my opinion. Now, things are different. Look, up there! On the wall! It's a white dragon! Gaibon floats up in the air, Slogra will try to impale you on its long spear, and a myriad of other classic Castlevania enemies all come to pay a visit. It also has another feature from early games, particularly its "prequel": You travel all over the kingdom of Walachia, with Dracula's Castle being the last area.
This game is also loyal by the soundtrack. It is just awesome, perhaps the best and most classical and gothic Castlevania soundtrack since Symphony of the Night. It starts with a great theme for the first area, and never ever disappoints in the entire game. The boss themes are great, with an electric guitar adding a rocking edge to them. Also, unlike the previous game, there are two general boss themes, instead of an individual theme for each boss, and yet there are special bosses with their own theme. However, the fact that there are no remakes makes for some wasted potential. In Dracula's Castle, you would expect a great remake of Vampire Killer, right? Wrong, it's just another original track.
The graphics also serve the game really well, the backgrounds differ greatly from each other, and range from an old castle (Not Dracula's) to a deep forest where you can't see the moon, to a mile-long aqueduct, to a city riddled with zombies. But wherever you go, it's all the same: Going from large room to large room, connected by long and monotonous corridors.
This feeling of doing much of the same comes from the lack of platforming sections. Uh, seriously? This game brings back a Castlevania staple from the dead, backtracking, only to drop an even greater staple. And so, the search for a perfect 3D Castlevania goes on. It should not be that difficult. Combine the atmosphere of Legacy, the platforming of Lament and backtracking of this game, or just go ahead and copy the elements from Metroid Prime. Both those ways could get a great game in motion.
Finally, as usual, comes the alternate mode. As expected, you can play as Trevor Belmont. This mode is a little unique because your equipment is not unchangable, you can find upgrades for your whip throughout the game, similar to Leon's and Juste's. All the elements are there, along with two neutral strength enhancements. You can find upgrades for your health, hearts, attack and defense all around the game.
All around, this is probably the best 3D Castlevania game today, but it still can't blow a candle to game like Dawn of Sorrow and Symphony of the Night. Go ahead and try it if you want, but don't set your expectations too high or you'll be sorry, just try to enjoy it as a game.
Final grade: 8.3/10
Reviewer's Score: 8/10 | Originally Posted: 09/29/11, Updated 09/30/11
Game Release: Castlevania: Curse of Darkness (US, 11/01/05)
Got Your Own Opinion?
You can submit your own review for this game using our Review Submission Form.